Australian Functional Ingredients – by Vic Cherikoff

Unnatural Acts at The Natural Products Expo

I just clocked another few weeks in the USA with presentations to retailers, wholesalers and a few manufacturers in New York before heading over to the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, Ca.

There is huge interest in all things Australian and quality products will always grab attention and hold it for repeat purchases. However, it amazes me that there is so much rubbish out there and this show seemed to bring out the shysters by the score.

The Natural Products Expo West saw record-setting crowds of up to 43,000 retail buyers, media and industry members who surged past more than 3,000 exhibits at this year’s wall-to-wall industry event, the top healthy food and lifestyle products. And I can assure you that the bull-sh_t meter went wild on numerous ocassions.

The newest fruits from the Himalayas, Amazon and (believe it or not) Thailand were there in abundance but it was unfortunate that they didn’t find the tasty ones. Ok. There were mangosteens but they had dried this delicious fruit to a pale, bitter, brown powder. And that was an innovation?. The fruits, juices and powders were in everything from chocolates, biscuits, pretzels, muffins, drinks of all sorts, snack foods, energy bars and if you can think of other products, they were there too.

Then there were the cocktails of compounds closer to synthetic chemistry than food and if some of the new-Agers thought that their bodies were temples then this stuff must have been designed for their drains. Again, every delivery method had been developed so anything you could eat, drink, rub on or inhale was on offer. But hang on, wasn’t this the Natural Products Expo?

There were the low fat, high/low carb, high/low protein, vitamin enriched, mineral boosted, antioxidant rich but barely edible preparations available for sampling and watching those who dared was entertainment in itself. Lucky there were plenty of ‘trash cans’ and ‘bins’.

You could not avoid the snake oil salesmen, the hawkers, the creatives and the outright conmen. As I mentioned, the BS meter was off-scale for quite a few exhibiters. There were the de-tox products (Spare me! Your liver can’t be ‘cleaned’. It does what it does so just eat right and you’ll live for as long as it takes). The flower essences – see my comments on this topic here, the worst peppermint flavoured water I’ve ever tasted (but which is doing gang-busters because Americans hate having bad breath), the sleep deprivation solutions (ever tried sleeping?) and the chakra cleaning aids. I hate having a dirty chakra, don’t you?

Now don’t get me wrong, there were some good, even great products there and my diary filled with contacts for follow up and possible deals to explore. However, I’d had enough after one day and knew that there were easier ways to reach the few hundred relevant leads for my interests instead of assaulting my tastebuds, senses (and intelligence) with half of the exhibitors’ offerings.

Did I mention the guy with the wax in his ear?

There was this one stand with a massage table and an Expo visitor on it and with a huge candle stuck in his ear. It was easily 300mm long, pink and was alight although the hot wax hadn’t yet melted down the shaft. It was probably only a matter of time though yet the ‘patient’ was apparently unconcerned, lying there on his side with his knees bent up in a foetal position. I just had to ask if the next candle was going up his rear end but had to walk on when all the on-lookers burst into loud, uncontrollable laughter and I felt that the exhibitor was about to attack me with my idea.

So, in summary, it’s not my choice of valuable trade shows for foodies and didn’t hold a candle (sorry, I couldn’t resist) to the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. I look forward to the New York FFshow in July. At least it’s more for the food fixated.

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Vic Cherikoff